The day before Lili Beaudoin auditioned for a play based on a polygamous community in B.C., she had the most unlikely encounter.
Beaudoin was at English Bay in Vancouver in March, going over a monologue she was going to use to audition for the lead role in Gracie, a new play on at the Belfry Theatre, when she noticed four women and a young girl walking towards her.
The women were wearing traditional dresses that were dark blue and brown cotton and covered everything except their hands and feet. Their hair was done up as well.
In that moment, rehearsing for a role in which she would play a character similar to the people standing before her, Beaudoin knew she had to meet them.
“It was so surreal. I had been studying and getting ready for the audition and I’d been looking at the women and I had such a clear picture of them in my mind. So when I looked over and saw them, I almost thought it wasn’t real,” said Beaudoin, adding she struck up a conversation with the women, who mentioned some were from Creston, B.C., while others were from Arizona, both of which have large polygamous communities.
“I thought ‘oh my god, it’s them, it’s them’! I just wanted to know what it was like from their side, looking at me.”
Beaudoin admitted the conversation was brief, even though she had a million questions swirling around in her head. The 13-year-old girl, who was with the group, smiled at Beaudoin with confusion and curiosity — something that stayed with her and she now uses as inspiration for her latest role as Gracie in the new play on at the Belfry.
“As the actor, it really struck me. I’m just trying to flip it and go into their world and look out at the outside world with that same view of not understanding it and curiosity,” she said.
Gracie, written by Joan MacLeod and based on the polygamous community in Bountiful, B.C., is a one-woman show that takes audiences into 13-year-old Gracie’s world, growing up in a community of rules and traditions, which eventually leads her to question her own beliefs and try to discover who she is within the family dynamic.
Vanessa Porteous, the play’s director and artistic director of the Alberta Theatre Project that is co-producing the play, described it as enchanting and compelling — one that many people will be able to relate to.
“The play opens up your heart and it also asks you questions, things like what do we ask of members of our community? What do we ask of each other in order to belong?” Porteous said.
“It opens you up to compassion and empathy. It’s a really moving experience. You don’t have to think, you just go along for the ride with Gracie.”
While Beaudoin is excited to hit the stage in her first production with the Belfry, it’s also a special experience for the actor, who used to watch her parents perform at the theatre when she was a child.
Gracie hits the Belfry stage Jan. 20 to Feb. 19. For more information and tickets visit belfry.bc.ca.